I once owned a set of Matthew Henry’s commentaries from the early 1900s. As my wife and I were going through some of our belongings, she asked if she could get rid of them, since the commentaries are now public domain and I could easily look up anything I wanted online. I told her she could try to sell them on eBay, but somehow that was translated into “Give them to Goodwill.” I came home one day to find they were missing and discovered the sad truth that I would be reaping no financial gain in exchange for those old commentaries. A Goodwill employee probably gave them a good once-over and threw them in the trash.
When I said we could sell them, Hannah thought that I was not really attached to them and wouldn’t mind seeing them go. What I really meant was something like, “I don’t want to part with them unless we can get some money out of the deal.” Marriage is full of little misunderstandings like that.
I’ve been thinking about Matthew Henry recently because I’m reading a book about his life and works, with a review to be completed once I’m done. The first few chapters actually deal mostly with the situation in England and his father, Philip Henry, leading up to Matthew’s birth in 1662.
It can be easy to forget the people who influenced and shaped the lives of famous Christians who’ve left a legacy for generations. Augustine’s mother prayed earnestly for her son’s conversion and even left her home in North Africa to seek him out in Italy. D.A. Carson speaks frequently about his own father’s influence on his life and even wrote a book about him called Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor (free PDF). Likewise, Philip Henry was a strong and godly influence on his son, and up until I started reading about Matthew, I was much more interested in Philip because of his life and ministry.
One of Philip Henry’s sayings was adopted and slightly modified by Jim Elliot, the missionary who was killed by the Waodani (Auca) Indians in Ecuador in 1956. His death and that of the four others who were with him have helped spawn even more missionaries to the field. Many people have repeated his words as a call to service and sacrifice for the Kingdom of our God:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
Few people know that it was originally Philip Henry, who lost his pastorate and even served time in jail for refusing to conform to the state religion, who said,
He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose.
If people like Jim Elliot saw fit to learn about and from those who’ve gone on before us, perhaps we too can find encouragement and light from those who were proven faithful by the test of time and persecution, who’ve influenced the heroes of our day.